Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Old Steps but New Attitudes

For some reason body language and appropriate touching has been on my mind lately.  I do a fair amount of dancing and one partner of mine I hadn't seen in months.  I know there was illness in his family and that my friend and taken temporary leave from work to travel and help get his family during the health crisis.  So, his return to dance classes was a welcome sight and I literally skipped to where he was standing.  Unselfconsciously, he throws his arms around me.  But all of sudden it was as if an electronic current ran through him and he backs away in haste.  Next, he starts apologizing.  I am standing there looking confused.  These were his words, " I am so sorry but I've just gotten back from Cape Breton."  Then he lets out a sign of relief "oh that's right, it's OK you're from Quebec."

Notice how our mutual cultural background dictated what was appropriate.  When I first moved away from Montreal and started graduate school in Toronto it was not uncommon for someone to remark, "You're not from here, are you?"  When I asked people how they could tell I got a variety of answers.  One is the characteristic way I have of using my hands when I talk.  I was an Anglophone but I gestured like a Latin.  Also, you could stand much closer to me before I flinched so people assumed that I had a French or Italian background.  Then there is eye contact.

I think this has become more acute with time and our shifting gender roles.  A few weeks back I was taking a dance workshop.  Whenever the older men had a question it was inevitably about getting the steps right.  When the younger men spoke up it was about their feelings and concerns.  How close am I allowed to hold my partner?  How do I know what she is comfortable with?  I've also found it revealing that gender has dropped out a lot of the references or teacher's guideline for etiquette.  You now approach someone and say, "Are you a lead or a follow?"

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Silent Auctions to Become More Ethical

One Saturday,  I was at the home of Gary Kachanoski (President of MUN) and his partner Teresa (chair of Visual Arts NL).  The occasion was a fundraising silent auction to benefit the Excellence in Visual Arts Awards.  Silent auctions are the mainstay in fundraising whether the cause be ecological (Ducks Unlimited), social justice (like the many around the refugee families), or artistic –like Teresa Kachanoski's.  Generally, collectors come out to enjoy the party atmosphere, a little friendly competitive bidding and hopefully, to snag a bargain.  Unfortunately, there are often two losers in this game: the commercial art galleries and those at the very bottom of the food chain, the artist.  

The first effort to address this situation has been the "minimum bid".  Basically, an artwork is NOT allowed to go for less than the stated price–but that still left the commercial art galleries out.  That Saturday, was the first time I heard the announcement, "if you were not able to get the piece you wanted.  We hope you will go to the gallery that represents that artist for another piece."  VANL is trying to create a win-win-win protocol with a percentage going to the gallery as well.  This is part of a national trend but one I think is crucial in smaller cities like St. John's where there are fewer players in the game.

Here is Teresa's piece for the Broadside, VANL's online publication, on the topic:

“There is more to representing art than selling art. The life of the gallery is dependent on the renewal and refreshment of its artists and dealers. When that stops happening, it’s the end.” - Arne Glimcher

In Newfoundland and Labrador, You Can Die of Exposure

by Teresa Kachanoski, Chair of the Board
Everyone loves getting a good deal at an art auction, especially if the proceeds go to help a beloved charity. You go home with a lovely piece of artwork and you feel good about being generous.
There is another side to this story that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Artists and art dealers are too frequently asked to donate work to charity auctions and the practice has become detrimental to local galleries and to the visual arts sector in general. The justification of “getting exposure” by donating work has been found untrue. Gallery owners see a dramatic drop in sales during months when art auctions abound, while artists are not getting paid for their work. As art auctions are equally popular and problematic, we are currently in the process of developing a series of recommendations and guidelines to make charities aware of the issues.

VANL-CARFAC is also in a situation where it needs to raise funds. For the past 11 years we have put on the Excellence in Arts (EVA) awards, with proceeds entirely generated by private sponsors and through fundraising efforts. This year we will indeed be having a fundraising event that will feature an art auction, but our auction will be different and we will make sure our guests are aware of the issues.

The artwork we will auction has been provided by local galleries, but we will set the minimum bid at the gallery price. The galleries will receive their commission, the artists will receive their share, and VANL will get the surplus amount above the minimum. While we will not receive a large return on each piece, we do feel that it’s a win-win-win situation that will help open a dialogue about best practices in these situations.

Galleries are an essential part of the art-making world. They provide artists with marketing, promotion, advice, expertise, support and feedback. The work they do by educating and alerting the public to trends, establishing fair prices, and providing a context in which artists can sell their work even benefits those artists who are not represented by galleries . By supporting these integral parts of the visual arts community, we are ensuring both the galleries, and the visual arts as a whole, remain able to fulfill their role in maintaining the vibrant culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Comic collision or comic calamity?

This past week I published a review of Boeing, Boeing with the Telegram.  The original play in French by Marc Camoletti was written in the sixties.  It is a farce that has been adapted for screen several times, for example the Hollywood version featured Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis and it has even been done three times for Bollywood in India.  It is a classic battle of the sexes plot and I was wondering how it would play to a post-feminist audience.  What I probably should have been more concerned about is the customary cross-dressing shtick and how that would wash with our transgendered times.  Turns out the audience didn't share my concerns–or at least I couldn't tell if they did.

Boeing Boeing
Joint Productions
Barbara Barrett Theatre, March 3-5, 2016

The opening Paris apartment scene of Boeing Boeing, sparks the interest of the audience with the vividly drawn characters of the king-of-smug, bachelor Bernard, his honey pot, fiancĂ© Gloria, and the long-suffering, stoic maid Berthe.  In quick succession, we are introduced to the other two "high flying" fiancĂ©s–all three are airline stewardesses or Bernard's very own international harem.  Mix in the arrival of the periwinkle-eyed Robert from Wisconsin and you have a guaranteed comic collision.

Bernard explains to Robert that he keeps his conjugal life in perpetual motion with the help of an international airline schedule.  You keep one ascending, one descending and one in flight.  The audience knows from the get-go that this is a simple plan ripe for disaster and waits with bated breath to watch Bernard's love life go down in flames.  Boeing Boeing premiered in 1960 as a thigh slapping farce and the appeal of watching a cad get his comeuppance has not diminished.

Joint Productions' version starts out on a relatively mellow romantic note and smoothly but quickly gains speed and volume.  In short time, the cast members are striking melodramatic poses, dripping memorable accents and slamming doors with hyperbolic threats.  The beauty of it is that it is all self-evident and the audience is seduced into that suspension of disbelief.  By the time intermission rolls around, the plot is teetering on the edge of its crescendo. In anticipation, audience members are taking bets on which one of the lovelies will snag their catch.  Will it be the willful American Gloria (Lynn Panting) with her Marilyn Monroe pout, the Germanic Gretchen (Hillary Bushell) with the powerful passion worthy of Wagnerian opera or the sultry Italian Gabriella (Alanah Whiteway) with the Sophia Loren strut?  Or will they ultimately combine forces and engage the men in a battle of the sexes?  The second act and the play's conclusion provide a satisfying but unexpected ending.

This image comes from a U.S. production (not by Joint)
 that shows the infamous man with "his lingerie" scene.

Bernard (Glenn Gaulton) and Robert (Phil Goodridge) make the perfect odd couple.  Both actors have played these characters in Marc Camoletti's companion farce Don't Dress for Dinner and that no doubt informs their chemistry on stage.  It would be too simple to describe them as a study in opposites although their physical differences are clear assets.  They trade emotional places effortlessly pivoting from calm to calamity.  Berthe (Janet O'Reilly) too orbits her own emotional range from sanguine to sarcastic and back again.

Ultimately, Boeing Boeing is an ensemble acting effort that works, especially in the risk taking second act when the slapstick action and one-liners reach near hysteria.  Director Ian Campbell is to be credited with an attention to detail that ranges from the mood music that greets you when you enter the theatre to ensuring that every member of Joint Productions is regarded as a collaborator.